Marking the Hours


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English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570

Eamon Duffy

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Personal prayer books and the jottings in their margins tell us about their owners and about life in late medieval and Reformation England

In this richly illustrated book, religious historian Eamon Duffy discusses the Book of Hours, unquestionably the most intimate and most widely used book of the later Middle Ages. He examines surviving copies of the personal prayer books which were used for private, domestic devotions, and in which people commonly left traces of their lives.  Manuscript prayers, biographical jottings, affectionate messages, autographs, and pious paste-ins often crowd the margins, flyleaves, and blank spaces of such books. From these sometimes clumsy jottings, viewed by generations of librarians and art historians as blemishes at best, vandalism at worst, Duffy teases out precious clues to the private thoughts and public contexts of their owners, and insights into the times in which they lived and prayed. His analysis has a special relevance for the history of women, since women feature very prominently among the identifiable owners and users of the medieval Book of Hours.

Books of Hours range from lavish illuminated manuscripts worth a king’s ransom to mass-produced and sparsely illustrated volumes costing a few shillings or pence. Some include customized prayers and pictures requested by the purchaser, and others, handed down from one family member to another, bear the often poignant traces of a family’s history over several generations. Duffy places these volumes in the context of religious and social change, above all the Reformation, discusses their significance to Catholics and Protestants, and describes the controversy they inspired under successive Tudor regimes. He looks closely at several special volumes, including the cherished Book of Hours that Sir Thomas More kept with him in the Tower of London as he awaited execution.

Eamon Duffy is the professor of the History of Christianity, and Fellow and Director of Studies, Magdalene College, University of Cambridge. He lives in Cambridge, UK.

“Medievalists will welcome Marking the Hours… This richly illustrated analysis of Books of Hours used for prayer and meditation shows what can be learned from the scribbles and annotations that the owners, including many women, have added.” - Sarah Williams, BBC History Magazine

"This is a glorious feast of a book. Yale University Press has, as always, devoted extraordinary resources to making it both beautiful and good. . . . With Duffy as our guide, the apparently random scribbles of often nameless men and women start to sound like a clear message from the distant past."—Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian

"The most beautiful history book of the year"---Ruth Scurr, The Times

"Illustrations that benefit from advances in colour-printing are brilliantly keyed into the narrative of Eamon Duffy's Marking the Hours. Once again, as readable and convincing as in The Striping of the Altars, Professor Duffy brings alive the daily life of English people in the two centuries before the Reformation, this time through the beautiful prayer books that they often annotated or defaced in a revealing way."---Christopher Howse, The Spectator

"Like books of hours, Duffy's new book is lavishly illustrated, so one can also see what he is writing about, though his prose is clear and engaging enough to stand out on its own."---Linne Mooney, BBC History Magazine

"Marking the Hours is a fascinating book, full of insights into medieval spirituality and religion. Written with style and wit, it is also sumptuously illustrated. Like its subject, this is a book to treasure."---Juliet Barket, Literary Review

" arresting and beautiful book..."---Paul Johnson, The Spectator

"once again, the author of The Stripping of the Altars has given us a newly convincing picture of a misunderstood period of religious practice. The colour illustrations are beautiful, fascinating, properly explained and perfectly integrated into the exposition. It is a delightful book that will change perspectives."---Christopher Howse, The Tablet

"Eamon Duffy's Marking the Hours brilliantly opens up 'windows on men's souls'-as well as being this year's most beautifully produced work of history."---John Adamson, The Sunday Telegraph

"It takes subtle insight and deep historical understanding to interpret these traces of intimate spiritual experience. Duffy is a master of both, wearing extraordinary learning with extraordinary lightness...[He] has crafted an arresting, affecting book."---Helen Castor, The Sunday Telegraph

"...passionate and knowledgeable about the faith of ordinary English people before the Reformation...[Duffy] has yet again opened for the reader a window into the medieval world of faith and fervour."---Catholic Herold

“An engaging historical exploration into the many surviving Books of Hours from the Middle Ages—especially the scribbles and lovingly penned ideas, messages and even correspondence in their margins. . . . Whether readers seek to re-ritualize their days or step back in time through the many illustrations of English illuminated manuscripts . . . Duffy provides [a] satisfying window into the ritual of fixed-hour prayer.”—Publishers Weekly

“[An] enchanting and engaging inquiry into the private devotions of English men and women in the late Middle Ages. . . . Probably the most intimate glimpse possible into medieval social history. . . . [Duffy] writes with an understanding and personal experience of religious practice which is beguiling and authoritative. His text is constructed in easy and confiding prose, like an excellent series of spoken lectures . . . sharing complicated concepts with clarity and intimacy and a genial good humor. . . . There is a wonderful sense here of having recently discovered Books of Hours, which bibliographers and collectors have known about for centuries, and his exploration of apparently new-found territory sweeps the reader onward in an excited journey of inquiry. . . . Almost certainly the most informative and readable account of the actual use of Books of Hours ever written.”—Christopher de Hamel, New York Review of Books

"Moral complexity is at the center of Marking the Hours. By tracing the fate of these sometimes luxurious books as they survive their owners, and by reading the scribbled margins (sometimes personalized prayers) and the erasures (caused by changes in belief), Duffy reveals the nuances and tensions that animated the lives of their owners."—Tom D'Evelyn, Providence Journal

"Duffy's book, reasonably priced and lavishly illustrated, is a feast for the eyes and reflects the judicious treatment of historical artifacts that we have come to expect from this fine scholar. . . . I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in the history of prayer or church history in general."—Lawrence S. Cunningham, Commonweal

"In The Stripping of the Altars—the single most important book in English Reformation studies in the past 50 years—Eamon Duffy demonstrates the vitality of popular religion in England in the years leading up to the Reformation. . . . Comprehensively researched and cogently argued. . . . It provides contemporary Catholics with models for the life of piety."—Thomas S. Hibbs, Crisis Magazine

"Meticulously researched, carefully documented, and lavishly illustrated."—Richard B. Steele, Catholic Books Review

" is to be expected in a book published by the Yale University Press, it is beautifully produced and profusely illustrated.  Duffy has yet again demonstrated his total mastery of the topic of popular religion in the late middlge ages.  His book can hardly be bettered as an accessible introduction to English late medieval prayer books and the debates surrounding them."  - Nigel Saul, History

"...this book was a revelation.  It brings individuals and history back to life.  Beautifully illustrated, it's a coffee-table book with a brain."  - Allison Ward, Church Times

"This is a substantive historical work about spirituality which is also inspiring. It includes many beautiful illustrations from various editions of the Book of Hours."—Christian Century (Christmas recommended books)

""The illustration in Marking the Hours are beautifully presented and richly colored. . . . The quality and clarity of the numerous reproductions alone make Duffy's book well worth its modest cost. . . . Historians of religion and of literature, aficionados of rare books, and general avocational readers of history will find much to treasure in Duffy's engaging study. like the Books of Hours, Duffy's volume is well worth 'using' for generations to come."—Fredrica Harris Thompsett, Church History

"A beautifully produced book with many wonderful illustrations. . . . [Duffy] skillfully shows how Books of Hours reflect nearly all the important features of their owners' religious lives. . . . Important."—Virginia Reinburg, Manuscripta

"Its lavish production values and elegant layout are splendidly attractive."—Mary C. Erler, The Catholic Historical Review

"As a work of cultural history, this study is exemplary and accessible....[It] belongs in any library serious about representing both religious history and the expanded discourse of art history. Reasonably priced and well indexed, it would also make an appealing text for an upper-level undergraduate or graduate course on late-medieval religion and the book."—Alexa Sand, Sixteenth Century Journal

"Marking the Hours is Professor Duffy's fourth book on the English Reformation and further enhances his reputation as one of the leading historians of Tudor England. . . . Marking the Hours is a valuable addition to our knowledge of that heritage, and it is served up with Duffy's characteristic panache."—Msgr. Thomas J. Shelley
ISBN: 9780300170580
Publication Date: February 22, 2011
208 pages, 7 1/2 x 9 1/2
120 color illus.
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